Ailing Henin-Hardenne rallies in WTA Championships

Friday, November 7th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Justine Henin-Hardenne had plenty of reasons to quit in the first set against Anastasia Myskina. She trailed 5-0, her heart raced, her head pounded and she was short of breath.

Nervous about her symptoms, Henin-Hardenne called for a doctor during a changeover. Her heart rate and blood pressure were checked and she was pronounced fit to continue.

Henin-Hardenne rallied from deficits in each set and defeated Myskina 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in 2 1/2 hours in the WTA Championships on Thursday night.

Top-ranked Kim Clijsters overcame Chanda Rubin's serve-and-volley tactics for a 6-4, 6-4 victory, and fourth-seeded Amelie Mauresmo defeated sixth-seeded Elena Dementieva 6-3, 6-2 in round-robin play in the season-ending tournament.

Clijsters assured herself of a spot in the semifinals of the event she won last year. She is 2-0 in the Red group and hasn't dropped a set in either match.

``It's nice to know that,'' she said. ``I've played two good matches, it's a relief.''

Rubin, the seventh seed, and Mauresmo have 1-1 records in the Red group. Mauresmo opened with a three-set loss to Rubin on Wednesday.

Dementieva dropped to 0-2, and although she hasn't yet been eliminated, she won't qualify for the semifinals of the $3 million tournament.

Henin-Hardenne and Jennifer Capriati are 1-0 in the Black group. They will play a rematch of their dramatic U.S. Open semifinal, won by Henin-Hardenne, on Friday night. Myskina and Ai Sugiyama are 0-1 in the same group.

The top two players in the Red and Black groups advance to the semifinals.

Henin-Hardenne has a sinus infection. She's also had a fever and sore throat since arriving from Belgium last weekend, which hampered her practice schedule.

``It's not a good time to be sick. I couldn't be prepared like I wanted to be,'' she said. ``I was having trouble breathing because of the cold I've had. I tried to relax and that helped me come back in the first set.''

She trailed 5-0 before reeling off seven straight games to win the first set. There were so few spectators left as midnight approached that they moved down to courtside for Henin-Hardenne's gutsy comeback.

``I was a little bit afraid at the end of the third set, but I hung in there,'' she said. ``I had to deal with a lot of pressure and I'm happy with that. It was an important victory.''

Myskina led 5-3 in the second set before Henin-Hardenne caught her only to lose the set on a missed backhand volley. Myskina blew a 5-4 lead in the third, then was broken as Henin-Hardenne won the final two games and the match despite 48 unforced errors.

Belgians Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne are competing to end the year as the top-ranked player. Clijsters holds a slim 135-point lead over her countrywoman this week.

Clijsters appeared to be on her way to an easy victory when she led 5-2 in the first set. But Rubin found success by rushing the net and frustrating Clijsters for a time.

``She started to make more returns and be a lot more aggressive,'' said Clijsters, who has never lost to Rubin in seven career meetings. ``I was playing a little too defensive. When I had to do it, I did. She made me work for it.''

Clijsters backed Rubin off the net more in the second set, which took only 33 minutes. Rubin played 30 points at the net in the first half and just 13 in the second.

Mauresmo needed just over an hour to beat Dementieva, who had only nine winners. The Russian has won just nine games in her two matches, having lost 6-2, 6-2 to Clijsters on Wednesday.

``I was taking it in a looser way, I was feeling no pressure,'' Mauresmo said. ``I felt better with my serve.''

Serena and Venus Williams, along with Lindsay Davenport, are absent because of injuries.